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Can the move towards net zero attract a new generation of drivers?

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The UK road freight industry is experiencing a substantial shortage of drivers. There are several factors contributing to this shortage, but the impact of the Covid pandemic and the bureaucracy surrounding Brexit are just two issues that have accentuated the shortage.

According to this article in BBC News, “a Road Haulage Association (RHA) survey of its members estimates there is now a shortage of more than 100,000 qualified drivers in the UK.” Until recently, HGV driving was not considered a key worker occupation but during the Covid pandemic this changed, and truck drivers were essential to the vaccine supply chain, delivery of PPE and of essential food and groceries. Yet organisations are struggling to recruit new drivers regardless of the impact Covid and Brexit has had on the industry.

Similarly, this briefing report, produced as part of the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight, suggests that “it has been estimated by industry representatives that 14,000 EU drivers working in this country left employment and returned to their EU countries in the year to June 2020, and only about 600 returned in the year to June 2021 (Logistics UK, 2021a). Meanwhile the ONS Annual Population Survey indicates that there were 27,000 non-UK (EU and other) drivers working in the UK in 2020/21 compared with 47,000 in the previous year, a reduction of 20,000 drivers (ONS, 2021).” (p.4)

The industry historically runs on tight margins meaning pay is squeezed, dominated by men, and requires unsociable working conditions. The shortage has prompted organisations to re-evaluate their training, pay and benefits for truck and fleet drivers in order to retain their current drivers and attract new drivers. But some argue that where companies offer drivers ‘signing on’ fees, this encourages drivers to move from one company to another, rather than attract new drivers to the industry.

To support organisations recruiting, the government has extended the legal driving length from 9 hours to 11 hours 2 days per week for drivers, encouraged more intensive training, as well as providing £7,000 per person funding for the Large Goods Vehicle Driver apprenticeship scheme. Yet, with an average driver age of 55, the ageing driver population adds to the problems facing the industry across the UK and Europe (20% of drivers are under 45 years old, while 57% are over 45 years old and 23% are over 55 year old)*[source What’s Driving the Driver Shortage in 2021? Infographic of 6 Key Challenges (coyote.com)].

It is hoped that the advances in technology will make the HGV industry more attractive to a wider range of people. Battery electric trucks are coming on to the market and are arguably easier to drive and cleaner to refuel. Combined with the lower range capability, these changes may address the potential work-life balance faced by drivers making long haul journeys. Furthermore, the recent Gridserve ‘Electric Forecourt’ launched in Braintree, Essex could revolutionise the concept of a truck stop. Would the clean facilities, a place to rest, relax and refuel both the vehicle and the driver during journeys help to attract a younger, cross-section of individuals?

Watch

This video by Volvo Trucks, available on YouTube, demonstrates the issues surrounding charging electric trucks.

UPS have also recognised the importance of improving driver experience and they are taking into account drivers’ points of view when developing their electric fleets in their move towards zero-emission transport. Watch the video here and see the value that electric trucks offer HGV drivers.